The New York Times Sunday Magazine piece famously opened: “She has pouting lips and high round breasts. Thousands of men have dreamt of her. Hundreds have chased after her. Two have died in pursuit. Her name is Sirena, she weighs 193 pounds, and she vanished in 1959. Without a trace.”
Barrett College’s legendary Greco-Roman sculpture’s fate was still a hot topic in 1970 when four roommates began their freshman year at the New England school. They’ve gone their separate ways for years. But as the 1994 commencement approaches, they are about to reunite to meet a challenge thrown down by a Class of ’59 hedge-fund billionaire. He has pledged a $25 million endowment plus a $3 million purse to her finder(s) if Sirena is restored to Barrett by June 17th, the date of his 35th reunion, the college’s sesquicentennial celebration—and our foursome’s 20th class reunion.
Although they are not alone in their pursuit—groups of alumni, including a pair of aggressive and highly financed classmates, are running down leads across the world—St. Louis lawyer Lou Solomon and his crew come upon an obscure but intriguing clue. It leads them to Chicago where a young lawyer called Rachel Gold may hold key information. As the men race to crack the Sirena puzzle, their quest will transform their lives in unexpected ways.
At 10:48 on the morning of June 6, 1994, Lou Solomon was in his law firm’s library. That in itself was noteworthy. The law library of Rosen & O’Malley, as with the libraries of most large law firms, is not a likely place to find a partner. Although a partner may occasionally poke his head in looking for an associate or to scan that day’s Wall Street Journal, the library is—as its name suggests—a place for research. Within the law firm hierarchy, associates do the research. They are, in the jargon of the profession, the mind mules.
Even more unusual, by 10:48 that morning Lou Solomon had already been in the library for nearly three hours. And there he would remain for several more. There hadn’t been a partner in the Rosen & O’Malley library for that long since old Mr. Caruthers spent the night back in the Spring of 1982, and that didn’t really count. After all, when the assistant librarian found the 74-year-old tax attorney the following morning slumped against the side of a carrel, his right arm clutching volume four of Scott on Trusts, he was already in an advanced stage of rigor mortis.
When Lou finally gathered his research materials at three that afternoon, two male junior associates peered over their library carrels to watch him leave. As the door swung closed behind him, they exchanged glances.
“Almost seven hours,” one said.
The other shook his head. “That’s incredible, dude.”
He said it with affection.
Lou Solomon was a favorite of the associates. The younger litigators tried to emulate his unassuming style in front of judges and juries, and he was often the topic of firm lore when associates gathered for lunch during the week or over pitchers of beer at Dooley’s after work on Fridays.
As the older associates occasionally reminded the younger ones, Lou Solomon had been a different guy back when they joined the firm.
“Remember when he played on the softball team?” one would reminisce between sips of beer.
“Lou played?” a younger associate would ask.
“Oh, yeah. He was good, too. Damn good. Played ball in college, didn’t he, Dave?”
And then Dave would lean back with a smile. “He ran the summer program when I was a law clerk.”
“My summer, too. Remember those float trips?”
“What float trips?” a younger associate would ask.
“He organized this annual float trip down the Meramec. It was a real hoot.”
Invariably, one of the senior associates would add, “She used to go on the float trips with us.”
And then there’d be silence. They all knew about Andi, even the ones who’d never met her. Especially the women.
“Yeah,” one of the senior associates would eventually say. “He was a different guy back then.”
Standing at the library carrels, the two associates watched as Lou disappeared down the hall.
“What’s he working on?”
“I think it’s that Donohue appeal.”
“Donohue? Isn’t Brenda on that with him?”
“She says Lou’s obsessed.”
And he was.
The brief was due tomorrow, and he still couldn’t let go. He’d promised Brenda his final changes by six that night. That would still leave her enough time to proof and cite-check the brief, shepherd the final version through the word processing department, and arrange to have the correct number of copies bound and filed in the court of appeals by the close of business tomorrow afternoon.
The Donohue appeal.
Its grip on Lou was all the more unusual because of the type of case it was. Lou’s specialty was complex commercial litigation—or, as those cases were known among law firms, elephant orgies: massive disputes featuring lots of parties, warehouses of documents, Dickensian plots, hordes of witnesses, squadrons of attorneys, and millions and millions of dollars at stake. His growing reputation in the field had placed him on the short lists of most general counsels in the region, which made him, at the age of forty-one, one of the firm’s top rainmakers.
But the Donohue appeal was no elephant orgy. The case arose out of a traffic accident, that hoary staple of the personal injury bar. Nevertheless, it possessed him like none he’d ever worked on. He found himself thinking about it in bed at night and on his morning jog and off and on during the day while listening to a long-winded client on the phone or waiting in court for a motion to be called. Although he was hardly the introspective type, Lou wondered about his devotion to this lost cause.
His office was one floor above the library. As he reached the interior stairway between the two floors, he was flipping through his research notes. He scanned one of the pages as he bounded up the stairs two at a time. The human shape registered in his peripheral vision at the last possible instant.
Roger Madison ducked back to avoid the collision.
“Whoops,” Madison said. “That was close.”
“I’m sorry, Roger.”
The older man chuckled. “No harm, no foul, Louis.”
Roger Madison was a litigation partner who specialized in condemnation matters. He was sixty-three, bald, slightly hunched over, and recently divorced. His only son, Roger Jr., had died of AIDS a year ago. Lou was close enough to Madison to pick up the tang of alcohol beneath the Polo cologne.
Lou gave him an apologetic smile as he started back up the stairs. “I’m a little out of it today, Roger.”
“No problem, Iceman.”
Lou paused and looked back, but Madison was already heading down the stairs.
He started up the stairs again, shaking his head.
He was scanning the headnotes of the next case in the pile as he strolled into his office. Taking a seat on the front edge of his desk, he began reading the court opinion.
The Donohue appeal.
It was a tale any fiction editor would reject as forced and overwrought and far too dependent upon coincidence. Thing was, God seemed to like them that way. The law books were filled with Donohue appeals—fact patterns served up with heavy platters of melodrama, seasoned with pure happenstance, and smothered in a thick gravy of pathos.
The Donohue of Donohue v. Henderson Construction Co. was Jane Donohue—attorney, widow, quadriplegic, mother of two little girls. The Henderson Construction Company had been her client. When old man Henderson died a few years back, Jane advised his adult sons to restructure the company into three separate corporations, one responsible for finances, one for marketing and one for operations. Her legal strategy was to limit the liability exposure of the operations end of the business. The sons agreed, Jane drew up the new corporate papers, and six weeks later a Henderson dump truck loaded with eight tons of hot asphalt ran a stop sign in her subdivision and plowed into the driver’s side of her station wagon, killing her husband and leaving her paralyzed from the neck down.
Lou had tried the case earlier that year. Forty-five minutes after closing arguments, the jury returned a verdict in Jane’s favor for $8.7 million. That was the good news. The bad news was that the judgment was against the operations corporation, which had total assets of $700,000. Jane Donohue’s medical bills alone had long since exceeded that amount.
Lou had been struggling with the appellate brief for weeks. The court had granted him three extensions of time as he searched for a loose brick in the legal fortress that Jane had built around the assets of the business. With no support from Missouri precedents, he had spent the last seven hours scouring the legal countryside for aid, reviewing dozens of court opinions from other states and law review articles from across the nation in what seemed an increasingly doomed effort to get some money to a paralyzed woman and her little girls. He’d even turned to California cases—a true sign of desperation. Asking a panel of Missouri appellate judges to follow a Left Coast precedent was akin to asking them to join you in a rousing evening of pansexual bondage. You might get lucky, but the odds were against you.
But even with California in the mix, there wasn’t much help out there. He set the court opinion down and with a sigh of fatigue turned to reach for the latest draft of the appellate brief.
And that’s when he saw the pink Phono-O-Gram slip.
Actually, he saw several. They were in a neat stack on top of the latest draft of the brief. He picked up the slips and started flipping through them. He stopped when he saw the one from 10:48 that morning:
Mr. Gorman of San Diego called re “fame and fortune (His words) “Change of plans.” Arrives @5 PM tomorrow: TWA Flight 432. Said you should “clear your calendar and fasten your seat belt.”
Lou smiled as he leaned back.
What was Gorman up to now?
Their twentieth college reunion was less than two weeks away. Three months ago, Ray Gorman had put Lou, Gordie, and Bronco Billy together on a conference call and made them take a pledge to meet him at Barrett College two days before the reunion. It would be the first gathering of the James Gang since the end of freshman year.
Lou read the message again.
Change of plans?
He checked his watch. Twenty minutes after three. He’d promised Brenda the brief by six. San Diego was two hours behind St. Louis time. He’d call Ray later.
He flipped through the other messages. Nothing urgent. He folded Ray’s message slip and put it in the pocket of his white dress shirt.
Kahn is the award-winning author of: seven Rachel Gold novels; an eighth novel, THE MOURNING SEXTON, under the pen name Michael Baron; and several short stories.
In addition to his day job as a lawyer, he is an adjunct professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis, where he teaches a class on censorship and free expression. Married to his high school sweetheart, he is the father of five and the grandfather of, so far, four.
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